By Julijana Capone
WINNIPEG – “To be in a room full of people, if you can make them dance as a musician, I feel like there’s nothing more satisfying—watching people connecting in a physical way,” says Greg MacPherson, one half of Figure Walking, about the danceability of his latest record, The Big Other.
MacPherson is riding his bike, heading to the inner-city not-for-profit organization where he acts as director, when he answers the phone for our interview. The last time we spoke with the singer-songwriter and socially engaged Winnipegger, he had just released The Big Other’s contagious first single, “Submarines,” which alluded to an artier direction.
While the album is a debut under the new Figure Walking banner, Greg MacPherson and ace drummer Rob Gardiner have technically been performing together since 2011 under the Greg MacPherson Band moniker. As MacPherson explains, the name change was an attempt “to hit restart and to take a bit more control over what we’re saying and how we’re approaching our messaging, our performances, everything.”
Drawing on dub-oriented grooves and flashes of serrated post-punk guitar stutters, there’s an exchange of wiry and rhythmic, which works to console the tension of political and social commentary, deliberately setting the tone for you to get up and move.
Opener “Sounds” is a response to what MacPherson describes as a skewed celebration of militarism that is used for “disappointing political gains,” infused with steady drum hits and frenetic, zigzagging chords.
Elsewhere, vocalist Hailey Primrose, who appeared on MacPherson’s 2013 release Fireball, takes the lead on track “Singapore,” and supplies backing accompaniment to closer “Funeral,” whose echoing refrain urges you to “dance until it all makes sense.”
While the songwriter’s lyrics have addressed political and social justice topics in the past, The Big Other presents issues in more intentional ways to the backbeat of movement-rousing rock ‘n’ roll.
“There’s so much wrong and unjust and disturbing in our world, and I feel very sensitive to that reality,” says MacPherson. “I’m not the kind of artist that likes to hit people over the head, but I feel an important part of my writing is to talk about things that really matter.”
The lingering rally cry “Victorious,” for instance, was written over several years and revolves around different themes of inequality. MacPherson says he started to perform the song live shortly after Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was found murdered.
“I think a lot of historically calloused local people actually started to feel something on the surface when Tina Fontaine died,” he says. “That’s the hopeful side of the song, hoping to maintain a sense of collective responsibility.
“Winnipeg’s a complicated city, and a great city, but it’s not as great for some people as it is for others,” he adds. “I really feel like we’re in an interesting time in this city where we’ve potentially turned a corner.”
He notes the Truth and Reconciliation Report, the election of Manitoba’s fist female Indigenous MLA, the Idle No More movement, a federal inquiry being called into murder and missing Indigenous women and girls, and the Dakota Access Pipeline as examples of long-awaited changes and powerful shifts in a better direction.
If dancing can be a path to conversation and catharsis, The Big Other seeks to do just that.
“I think people connect with music when they dance,” says MacPherson.
“If you have politics or issues on the mind, and you can present it in a way that makes people feel alive, people are more connected…I think that’s what good music can do for people. I love listening to music that makes me want to dance.”
Figure Walking perform on April 16 at the Good Will Social Club in Winnipeg. To purchase The Big Other, out via Disintegration Records, head to disintegration.ca.Disintegration Records, Figure Walking, Good Will Social Club, The Big Other